It would not be wrong to say that the hold of caste on Indian society is as strong as ever. It can also not be denied that our blind faith in the social grading system and its non-negotiable boundaries hardly benefits us in any way. In fact, it is one of the main causes for the deaths of many innocent people, the recent being the case of Bhawna Yadav, a 21-year-old Delhi University student.
Yadav was strangled to death by her parents because she married her boyfriend Abhishek Seth, who does not belong to her caste. This is not the first time such an incident has happened, and it won’t be the last either. If it is not the caste-conscious families who indulge in honour killings without any fear of the law, then we have extra-constitutional bodies like khap panchayats who issue diktats against women marrying outside gotras or using mobiles and the internet or wearing jeans.
At a meeting in Muzaffarnagar recently, 18 khap leaders declared that love marriage was completely prohibited in the Jat community and those who defy this diktat would be killed and their bodies thrown away! How on earth did this body get away with making such a provocative statement when everyone knows that they are quite capable of fulfilling their scary promise? This was not all: They also asked their community members to stop their daughters from using mobile phones, Facebook and WhatsApp. Khap leaders can continue issuing such diktats without fear because politicians back them since they control huge vote banks.
At an international level also it seems India is coy about saying that caste is responsible for blocking gender equality. At the ongoing of a Asian and Pacific conference on gender equality and women’s empowerment, India changed ‘caste’ to ‘social origin’ in a draft declaration that said gender-based discrimination is often linked to age, race, ethnicity and caste among others things. To change this unacceptable status quo, there has to be a strong political and legal push.
While the government must not delay in bringing in legislation against honour killing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has often talked about his low-caste origins, should take up the issue of caste and its attendant issues and mention in his speeches and give the cause a mega push, like he has done with his other pet projects like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan.